A New Variable | Inside Higher Ed

Heraclitus said you never step in the same river twice. The same is true of commuting.

I had been to campus a decent number of times between the initial lockdown and now, but only when there was a specific reason. Now I’m commuting regularly again, for the first time since March of 2020.

For the first couple of days, just re-establishing some old routines took some doing. After an extended spell of working barefoot, wearing dress shoes all day is an adjustment. (I never saw the point of wearing shoes on Zoom from home.) Remembering to make and bring lunch took a couple of tries. Getting home later requires making some adjustments around dinner.

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Those, I mostly anticipated. Those were returns to the way things had been. I’m listening to podcasts in the car again, wearing adult clothes again and seeing colleagues again.

The twist is that now The Girl has her license. And a summer job. And a busy social calendar.

She got her license in early July, so for about a month she probably drove my car more than I did. Other than feeling a little bad for the car — I didn’t know the fuel gauge could even go that low — it wasn’t a big deal. I was working from home, so if she needed the car to get to her gig at a local restaurant, it was fine. If anything, it was more convenient than before, because I didn’t have to pick her up. The car is already six years old and it bears some battle scars from having spent time in parking lots with lots of teen drivers, so I probably wouldn’t notice another scratch somewhere. And it’s a frumpy hybrid DadMobile, so I’m not worried that she’ll be tempted to push its limits. It tends to push back.

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But she got used to that freedom very quickly. And now I’m commuting.

Reader, this creates issues. Issues that we didn’t have before she had her license.

Some of her friends somehow have cars, but I don’t see that making sense. She’ll be off at college next year, pandemic willing, and many colleges don’t allow first-year undergrads to have cars. Plus we’re paying out-of-state tuition for The Boy already, and next year we’ll be paying both his and hers. A major purchase that mostly sits on the street for a year, consuming insurance coverage while we’re paying two tuitions, just doesn’t seem like a good idea.

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You’d be surprised how unpersuasive that argument can be to a 17-year-old.

Unfortunately, we live in a public transportation desert. It’s not like I could just get her a subway pass and be done with it. In the right setting, that would be an elegant solution. But here, no.

She has a bicycle, but that isn’t great at night, or when carrying stuff, or in the rain. It’s better than nothing, but it’s not a full substitute. Besides, I don’t want her anywhere near Route 9 on a bicycle. Those drivers take no prisoners.

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This is a whole set of considerations I didn’t have before the lockdown. And the timing gave her a taste of autonomy just long enough for her to start thinking of it as normal. Heraclitus was right, and he didn’t even have a teenage daughter with a new driver’s license.

Her return to school will be shortly after Labor Day, too; I’m hoping that will reduce some of the logistical conflicts. If she’s in school all day anyway, then the fact that I drove the car to work shouldn’t mean much. Next summer is anybody’s guess.

Now if I can just remember to bring lunch …

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